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Study Finds Consumer Interest in Alternative Fuel Cars Highest Ever

February 10, 2009

ST. LOUIS, MO --- A new study, conducted by Maritz Research's Automotive Research Group, shows growing public interest in alternative fuel sources.

The Automotive Research Group of Maritz Research has been tracking interest in alternative fuels in its annual New Vehicle Customer Study (NVCS) since 2005, and the data show electric power growing as a primary alternative fuel among the current choices.

Approximately 9 percent of consumers who bought or leased a new vehicle in 2008 judge the electric-powered vehicle as the alternative fuel that is most appealing. The appeal share for electric vehicles has grown in the past three years from 3.4 percent in 2006, to 6.6 percent in 2007, and now 9.4 percent. Interest is higher among those who purchased or leased a car, as opposed to a light truck, in the past three years.

Appeal for electric vehicles stood at 4 percent in 2006, climbed to 8 percent in 2007, and currently is almost 11 percent among new car buyers and lessees. The car share of the vehicle market has grown since 2006 and is now over 50 percent of new sales. Light trucks formerly dominated vehicle sales.

Jim Mulcrone, senior manager for Maritz's automotive research group, said: "With automakers struggling and renewed emphasis on reducing oil dependence, consumers are eager for innovation. Adding electric and other alternatively fueled models may help spur new growth in automotive spending."

Consumers ranked electric-powered vehicles third among current options such as diesel, hybrid and seven other choices in a question that asks consumers to pick one.

Solar power has remained flat in the 4-5 percent range; methane, propane/LPG and biodiesel have the least interest at 2 percent or less. Interest in gas blends and diesel has ebbed over the four years of the study with gas blends currently at 5 percent and diesel at 3 percent.

Conversely, appeal of hybrid and fuel cell vehicles is rising, with hybrids up from 18 percent in 2006 to 24 percent in 2008, and fuel cells up from 11 percent in 2006 to 15 percent in 2008. "This is likely due to the wide press coverage of these alternative drivetrains over the last few years," Mulcrone said.

The NVCS also shows that in 2008 approximately one-quarter (26 percent) of consumers still do not know which alternative fuel is most appealing. However, the proportion of these "drivetrain undecideds" is shrinking, down from 31 percent in 2006, indicating consumer opinions about alternative fuels are coalescing. A small, but stable, share of 3-4 percent report none of the 10 alternative fuels in the questionnaire are appealing.

Maritz Research has conducted the NVCS as a syndicated tracking study in the United States for over 30 years. Since its inception, the objective of the NVCS has been to provide current, comprehensive marketing data covering every vehicle line sold or leased in the marketplace. Sample sizes annually are 115,000 or more.

The 2008 data includes buyers in the first nine months of the model year, currently over 88,000 records. NVCS is sampled at the model level and focused on retail (household) sales with a target of 450 responses per model.


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